The Daily Briefing Thursday, November 2, 2017
AROUND THE NFL
Has Roger Goodell’s multi-year, multi-multi-million contract extension reached the point of no return. The sources of Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com claim it has:
Numerous sources reiterate that Roger Goodell’s new contract is done as a practical matter and that Jerry Jones’ effort to “hijack” the process in a conference call among some owners on Thursday is not feasible. Sources also believe the Ezekiel Elliott suspension is a significant factor in Jones’ ongoing battle with the league office and doubt he he has anything close to 16 other owners in his corner.
Some of the owners participating in the call on Thursday were unaware it was going to be centered on Goodell and many of them support making big changes to the league office. We have reported extensively on concerns about people like Jeff Pash, Troy Vincent, and the overall payroll being spent on Park Ave. — but in no way support an idea of changing commissioners now, especially with a labor negotiation looming in 2021.
“That article leaves the inference that 17 want Roger out but I know most on the call may want some changes at the league staff but NOT Roger,” communicated one ownership source. “Meaning they want Roger to stay but want some guys out and want more talented people brought in” at the league office.
There have been differing accounts of Roger Goodell’s contract extension in the media, but the reality is the language on the commissioner’s extension with the NFL is finalized. “The deal is done,” according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation, and no owner is delaying the matter.
Jerry Jones and some other owners are displeased with how the league office has handled the mounting turmoil associated with players demonstrating during the national anthem, but the negotiations between the league’s Compensation Committee of owners and Goodell have been complete for weeks and the matter is closed. Goodell’s extension is complete, but, given the highly-charged political climate in this country and Donald Trump’s propensity to lash out at the NFL, neither side is pushing the matter of announcing the deal now.
Some in the league office expect that a formal announcement might not come until the week of the Super Bowl, when Goodell gives an annual state of the league press conference. At this point, coming out of last week’s owner’s meeting, which included a lengthy session with players and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith, the NFL is trying to turn attention away from the protests and anything that might bring more negative attention to the league, and therefore it makes no sense to engage on the commissioner’s new contract right now.
The Compensation Committee has been entrusted with negotiating a new deal with Goodell since a vote was taken on the matter at the annual NFL meeting in March, and at that point no further communication was required from owners not on that committee to formalize a deal with him. Jones has played no role in that matter. Goodell’s new deal with the NFL will run until 2024. Some of the final issues dealing with Goodell’s pension and future payments were put to bed weeks ago, when the process of lawyers drawing up the final document of the contract began.
The Lions are closer to getting T TAYLOR DECKER back. Kyle Mienke at MLive.com:
Injured offensive tackle Taylor Decker is back on the practice field, and he’s expected to suit up for the Detroit Lions sometime this month.
The Lions announced Decker will participate in a light walk-through/practice Wednesday afternoon, and if all goes according to plan, he’ll rejoin the team for the first full practice of the week Thursday afternoon.
Detroit usually begins the practice week Wednesday, but that was pushed back a day due to the Monday night game in Green Bay against the Packers.
It’s unlikely Decker plays in that game, after sitting out more than four months with a torn labrum. Terron Armstead, another offensive tackle who suffered a similar injury, needed 2.5 weeks of practice before returning to the Saints.
Detroit has three weeks from today to activate Decker to the 53-man roster, or move him to injured reserve.
With Decker out of the lineup, the Lions traded a sixth-round pick to replace him with Greg Robinson. That has been nothing short of a disaster. Robinson has given up 24 pressures and ranks 71st at the position according to ProFootballFocus. That’s out of 74 qualifying players.
Are the Eagles displeased with RB LeGARRETTE BLOUNT? Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
LeGarrette Blount didn’t get traded this week, but he is one of the players who was impacted by the moves made ahead of the trade deadline.
Blount has been the lead back for the Eagles, but they didn’t trade for Jay Ajayi in order to just have the former Dolphin deep on the depth chart. Blount said on Thursday that he’s not worried about the potential changes to his role that could come and that he’s going to keep on doing things the same way as a result.
“There was no reaction. I can only control what I can control,” Blount said, via NJ.com. “That was a decision that was made from up top. … That is something I can’t answer. As far as I go, I’m just worried about me, what I can control and grind everyday like I’ve been doing.”
Coach Doug Pederson said Wednesday that there isn’t going to be an immediate shakeup to the depth chart at running back and Blount’s continued effectiveness should guarantee that he has a good-sized chunk of the workload even as Ajayi takes on a bigger piece of the pie.
Getting 12.5 carries per game, Blount has a solid 4.7-yard average so far in 2017, which is actually his best since 2013.
Interim GM Marty Hurney offers his rationale for shuffling WR KELVIN BENJAMIN off to Buffalo to Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer:
Panthers interim general manager Marty Hurney liked the idea of moving a player whose size (6-foot-5) and skill set were nearly identical to that of No. 2 wideout Devin Funchess.
“This was more about getting more speed on the field. We’ve got some young players who we think have some real ability,” Hurney said in a phone interview. “Kelvin was a very good player and was productive for us. It was more getting a mix of skill sets on the field and more speed.”
Hurney said he expects Funchess to slide into Benjamin’s former X spot as the lead receiver, with rookie Curtis Samuel moving into Funchess’ vacated role at Z. Speedy wideout Kaelin Clay also could see more playing time.
Dan Hanzus of NFL.com on the Saints. This comes after he points out that New Orleans is running the ball on 45.3% of its first down plays – the highest total for the Saints since the Super Bowl 2009 season:
Hey, remember when the Saints were 0-2 and the defense was wretched and Adrian Peterson was scowling at Sean Payton and New Orleans seemed destined for yet another 7-9 finish in a best-case scenario? Yeah, that seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?
The Saints haven’t lost since then and enter the season’s midway point a surprise leader in the NFC South. They’ve turned around their entire operation by leaning on the two things the organization had seemingly forgotten about in the years since their Super Bowl XLV victory: They play defense and they run the football.
And while the immediate impacts of rookies like cornerback Marshon Lattimore and running back Alvin Kamara can’t be overstated, the whole game plan ultimately works because Drew Brees is still Drew Brees. New Orleans’ shift in strategy on offense would’ve been predictable if Brees were showing serious signs of slippage, ala Peyton Manning in his final year with the Broncos. But Brees remains elite, which makes this type of philosophical change all the more effective.
Coach Kyle Shanahan refuses to put out a timetable for the first 49ers appearance of QB JIMMY GAROPPOLO. Cam Inman of BayAreaNewsGroup.com:
Jimmy Garoppolo made his 49ers practice debut Wednesday wearing almost the same black-jersey, black-short, white-cleats attire as fellow quarterback C.J. Beathard. The glaring exception: a play-sheet on his Garoppolo’s left wristband.
Garoppolo is cramming like crazy to learn coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense, starting with an iPad study on his cross-country flight Tuesday after his trade from the New England Patriots.
Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello are getting Garoppolo up to speed in case he can be C.J. Beathard’s backup for Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals — and possibly longer — until he’s ready to assume the starting role.
“The five minutes I sat and talked with him, he seems like a good dude,” center Daniel Kilgore said just before practice.
Only five minutes?
“Yeah, we’re not having much time. That guy is trying to get the playbook,” Kilgore said. “I don’t know if he’s playing or what but I’m sure he’s being a pro, getting into the playbook and trying to learn.”
In warmups Wednesday, Beathard helped direct Garoppolo through drills, as did Scangarello and wide receivers coach Mike LaFleur.
First impression of Garoppolo’s arm: a nice spiral with ample strength and accuracy. For example, he hit Aldrick Robinson in stride on a 20-yard out route, and had the pass been wide, it would have drilled Shanahan and general manager John Lynch who were observing on the sideline.
Shanahan announced no set timeline on when he’ll deploy Garoppolo, echoing what was said a day earlier in the quarterback’s media introduction.
“I can’t promise you guys that he won’t play this week. I can’t promise you guys that he’ll play this year,” Shanahan said. “I know we have a guy we’re excited about and has the ability to help us in the future.
“That’s what I mean by, ‘We didn’t do this to save this year.’ We did this because we feel it will improve our team and our organization.”
The 49ers are 0-8 for the first time in franchise history, and they’ll play the next couple games without left tackle Joe Staley (eye). In good news, Trent Brown returned from a concussion and moved from right to left tackle for Wednesday’s session.
Former 49ers quarterback Steve Young figures an ideal launching spot for Garoppolo would be Nov. 26 at home against Seattle, after the bye follows these coming games against the Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys.
“That’s plenty of time to be competent,” Young said on KNBR 680-AM. “But to have the nuances and the subtleties, there’s no chance. He’ll finish the season, the last game, ‘Aw, I finally getting that little feel.’ That’s just the situation of the nature he’s in.”
The Seahawks say they are disbanding their running back committee and committing to RB EDDIE LACY. Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times:
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll insisted Wednesday the trade for veteran left tackle Duane Brown was not in reaction to the anemic running performance Sunday against Houston, when Seattle was held to a season-low 33 yards on 21 carries, 30 of which came on four attempts from quarterback Russell Wilson.
He also insisted that performance, which tied the season-low of last season against Buffalo, was an outlier even if Seattle is just 21st in the NFL in rushing this week at 97.6 per game.
“You guys want maybe to make this big statement about last week,” Carroll said. “Last week was a lousy game for us on the line of scrimmage and the running game. I don’t think that’s how things are going or how it is. I just think that’s how it happened.”
Still, Carroll and the Seahawks have come to a conclusion as the season has neared its midway point and the running game remains one of the team’s biggest problems — that it’s time to give one running back the bulk of the carries and see what happens instead of trying to spread things out evenly among the team’s various tailbacks
And for this week, the beneficiary of that decision is Eddie Lacy.
“We’re going to start with Eddie and let him go a little bit and see where it goes from there,” said offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell after practice.
“Going to see a lot of Eddie this week,” Carroll said during his regular press conference before practice.
In fact, Carroll said that along with the Seahawks simply losing battles at the line of scrimmage last week and in other games recently, that the team may also have erred in not giving any of the running backs enough carries to really show what they can do. That’s been particularly true statistically since the loss of rookie Chris Carson against Indianapolis in the fourth game.
Carson had a season-high 20 attempts for 93 yards in a win over San Francisco in the second game of the season as he had begun to establish himself as the feature back.
Otherwise, no Seattle tailback has had more than 12 carries in a game, with Lacy and Thomas Rawls never getting more than 11 in any one game.
“I don’t feel like we have been in a rhythm,” Carroll said. “I think I’ve held them back a little bit by spreading it around quite a bit and trying to figure that out. So as we zero in the second half (of the season) hopefully we are going to make some headway.”
Offensive line coach Tom Cable echoed Carroll’s sentiments that the Seahawks want to commit to one running back as the feature back and see if giving Lacy extended time will help revive the running game.
“We’ve always tried to do that (establish one running back),” Cable said. “So maybe we have gotten lost in ourselves a little bit, too. But yes, we want to get cleaner blocking first and foremost, and get a runner established.”
Asked if he’d like to see Lacy get a chance to be “that featured guy” Carroll said. “We’ll see. Yeah. Would love for that happen.”
In the Things We Thought We Would Never See Department, QB BROCK OSWEILER is again the starting quarterback of the Denver Broncos. Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post:
When Broncos general manager John Elway re-signed Brock Osweiler in September, he said the veteran quarterback was “going to need a little football rehab” after his 18-month roller-coaster around the NFL.
Once Peyton Manning’s groomed successor, Osweiler accepted riches from the Texans and experienced the extremes of the NFL, as a welcomed free agent signing one day and a vilified backup soon after. In the offseason, he was cast off to Cleveland, where few careers in recent history have thrived, then cut from the team, with a healthy salary but no clear future.
So Elway brought him back to again be a backup and a safety net. But now, Osweiler’s stint in rehab is over. “I’m checking out,” he said jokingly on Wednesday.
The former second-round pick is, once again, the Broncos’ starting quarterback, taking over for Trevor Siemian after three consecutive and frustrating losses fueled by turnovers.
After lengthy discussions with Elway and his coaching staff, coach Vance Joseph asked Osweiler and Siemian to report to the team’s Dove Valley headquarters Tuesday evening to inform them of the decision. Then the coach told the rest of his team Wednesday morning.
“It came down to what’s best for our football team and, quite frankly, what’s best for Trevor’s future,” Joseph said Wednesday. “The team was OK with it. They trust Brock. He’s been here before under the same situation. It’s very similar. This is why we signed him.
“I’m hoping that this move can simply stabilize the offense so that we can get into a fair game, so we can win some football games. … We can’t see where we’re at until we stop turning the football over.”
Osweiler will start Sunday against the 7-1 Eagles in Philadelphia, a move that seemed overdue in recent weeks but still jarring given the team’s start and Osweiler’s past year.
Following their 29-19 loss at Kansas City on Monday night, during which Siemian tossed three interceptions and the team totaled five turnovers, Joseph said a quarterback change was “a possibility,” a departure from his previous insistence that Siemian would remain the starter.
Siemian admitted after the game he was pressing and sometimes looking for the big play instead of the right play. Joseph admitted their plan simply wasn’t working.
Ironically, the reasons Siemian lost the job were the same ones that helped him win it twice in consecutive offseasons: his decision-making, his ball security, his consistency.
That continued through the first two weeks of the season, as the Broncos owned the best rushing offense (159 yards per game), sat atop the NFL in third-down percentage (56.7 percent) and total touchdowns (nine), and were tied for third in scoring (33 points per game). Siemian led the league passing touchdown percentage (10 percent) through two games and ranked seventh with a 106.9 passer rating — higher than Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Carson Wentz.
But over the last three weeks the Broncos have averaged a league-low 9.7 points per game and totaled a league-high 11 turnovers. Siemian has accounted for seven of those turnovers (six interceptions and one fumble lost), while compiling a passer rating of 64.1.
“I’m disappointed obviously. I think as a competitor you want to play. I want to play,” Siemian said. “But I understand coach Joseph has a job to do and do whatever he thinks is best for the team.”
In his seven starts total this season, Siemian had 10 interceptions, two lost fumbles, nine touchdown passes and was sacked 25 times. Only Cleveland’s DeShone Kizer and Carolina’s Cam Newton had more interceptions (11) through Week 8.
“Certainly last game I kind of felt like I was trying to make something happen, especially at the end there,” Siemian said. “But it’s tough to say. A lot of the mistakes I’ve made, they’ve been off-schedule and when I’ve gotten out of the pocket. So it’s something I’ll learn from and hopefully clean up.”
It became clear the team needed a change — and one they had seen before.
Osweiler was the only viable option of the team’s collection of quarterbacks, all Broncos draft picks. Former first-round pick Paxton Lynch is still on the mend from a shoulder sprain, and Joseph strongly hinted Wednesday that rookie Chad Kelly will remain on the non-football injury list for the rest of the season.
For Sunday, Osweiler is their guy. If he plays well, he will remain their guy.
“Brock is a pro’s-pro. He is one of the first guys here, last guy to leave,” Joseph said. “We talked last night and he went right to the film room and brought in a table full of questions for (offensive coordinator) Mike (McCoy) this morning. He’s been around the best in the business. He knows how to prepare. As far as the offense, he’s got it.”
And his first job is basic.
“I’m being told to protect the football,” Osweiler said. “And that’s something that I think all quarterbacks and all skill guys know when they come into the NFL. You have to protect the football. The saying is, ‘Ball security is job security.’ If you protect the football, you’re going to stay out there on the field.”
The Broncos re-signed Osweiler to a one-year deal in September after his whirlwind 18 months that landed him in Houston as a handsomely paid free agent, then to Cleveland via trade and back to Denver shortly after. The deal was a bit of coup for Denver, since the Browns are on the hook for about $15.3 million of his $16 million salary this year. Osweiler is earning a veteran’s minimum of $775,000 from the Broncos.
But his 14 starts in Houston were riddled with highs and extreme lows as he recorded 14 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, was replaced late in the season by Tom Savage, then later regained the starting job for the postseason.
The roller-coaster ride came with lessons, he said, ones perhaps Siemian is learning now.
“I think when players get in trouble sometimes is when they make the game bigger than what it is,” Osweiler said. “And yes, it’s a very complex game, it’s a very fast game, there’s a lot going on, there’s calls, there’s audibles, there’s side adjusts, there’s hots. But when you can slow the game down and, like coach said, just manage it, take care of the football, find completions, find ways to move the sticks. You don’t always have to take the big play.
“When you have that approach and you stack up a lot of good plays, you’re going to have good results at the end of the game.”
This is so Browns. They are paying someone $15.3 million this year to quarterback for another team.
Kevin Patra of NFL.com on the plight of the 2017 Raiders:
The Raiders have struggled on both sides of the ball this season. While the defense continues to be a sieve on the back end, the offense has been particularly disappointing. A unit that was supposed to help mask some of the defensive deficiencies has fallen flat.
Compared to 2016, the Raiders are earning 4.9 fewer points per game and 55.5 fewer yards per game, including a 32.1 fewer rushing yards per game. Oakland went from a top 10 offense in points, yards, and rushing yards last year, to a bottom-half ranking in each category in 2017 (19th in points, 20th in yards, and 26th rushing yards).
The offense’s lack of balance and lack of explosive plays leap out on film and the stat sheet. It feels like Oakland’s O is playing within a 12-yard box.
The Raiders are running the ball on just 35.9 percent of plays, the sixth lowest rate in the NFL. With Marshawn Lynch’s struggles and the lack of holes from a highly paid offensive line, it’s not a huge surprise offensive coordinator Todd Downing has put the ball in Derek Carr’s hands. The big plays the QB enjoyed last year, however, have fizzled. Carr currently owns a 51.6 passer rating on throws of 21-plus air yards, 28th in the NFL, per NFL Research — Carr had a 117.8 passer rating on such passes in 2016.
With eight games remaining, including tilts with the Patriots, Chiefs, Broncos, Eagles and Cowboys, the task of turning the season around won’t be easy. Players know they are running out of time.
“If you just look at the numbers, you pretty much have to get 10 wins to get into the playoffs, sometimes more than that,” receiver Amari Cooper said. “So, where we’re sitting at now, we can only possibly get 11, so of course we’re going to have to stack up these wins.”
It doesn’t sound like Coach Marvin Lewis was pushing for the botched trade that nearly sent QB A.J. McCARRON to Cleveland. Marc Sessler of NFL.com:
Marvin Lewis views Tuesday’s epically botched trade with the Browns as a blessing in disguise for the Cincinnati Bengals.
The team’s coach met with reporters Wednesday, expressing happiness over having AJ McCarron still sitting on the roster behind starting quarterback Andy Dalton.
“AJ is a very valuable member of this team and I told him that yesterday [after] everything,” Lewis said. “Frankly, I was relieved, so I don’t have to go through those gymnastics of the next step. He’s a great kid. He’s a true team player. He’s a leader. He’s a leader on this football team, and that’s why we felt like he’s such a valuable asset and the man upstairs was very clear about it, and so forth, of how we felt about him. So that’s the key.”
“I’m not angry. I’m not upset,” McCarron told reporters, per the team’s official site. “It feels good to be wanted,” McCarron said. “Today I’m going to thank Mr. Brown personally. I admire that he was going to give me an opportunity to go start and play somewhere. I really appreciate that of him. He’s been an unbelievable owner in my experience here.”
Late Tuesday, the Browns and the Bengals agreed to a trade that would send McCarron to Cleveland in exchange for the team’s second- and third-round picks in 2018. The swap was short-circuited, though, when the Browns filed their paperwork to the NFL after the 4 p.m. ET deadline, nixing the deal.
The highly unusual (and embarrassing) gaffe resulted in both teams pointing fingers over who botched the trade, but reporting by Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer suggests that Cleveland’s front office went about the process in unorthodox fashion, triggering the missed deadline.
The Browns appealed to the NFL to allow the trade to go through, but the league refused to budge, leaving McCarron in a Bengals uniform for the rest of the season.
Lewis “sounded like he was still in disbelief about what happened yesterday,” per ESPN’s Katherine Terrell, with the coach telling reporters that notifying the league office is a “pretty easy” thing to do.
The failed trade raises plenty of questions about the relationship between Cleveland’s coaching staff and front office, not the least being why McCarron was seen worthy of a second- and third- round pick one day after the Patriots shipped Jimmy Garoppolo to the Niners for a lone second-rounder.
The Browns welcome the return of talented but troubled WR JOSH GORDON from another suspension. Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
You know that star receiver the Browns have been hoping will ride in on a white horse and save them? He’s arrived. Josh Gordon is back.
The Browns’ oft-suspended Pro Bowl receiver has been reinstated by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell from his indefinite drug ban on a conditional basis, the league announced Wednesday.
He rejoins an 0-8 team in desperate need of receivers and a victory. But he hasn’t played since the second-to-last game of the 2014 season — almost three years ago, and was extremely rusty upon returning after a 10-game ban that year. Since the last time he set foot on the field, the Browns have gone 4-37.
Gordon, who met with Goodell at the NFL offices in New York on Tuesday, will be eligible to practice with the team beginning Nov. 20 and eligible to play the last five games, beginning Dec. 3 at the Los Angeles Chargers.
“We’ve been informed of the league’s decision to reinstate Josh,” Browns Executive Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown said in a release from the NFL. “The personal well-being of all our players is of the utmost importance to us.
“We respect and commend Josh for taking the steps necessary to have the opportunity to return to the league. Josh will be in our building in the coming days and we look forward to having him back and sitting with him to discuss his future on our team.”
The Browns are proceeding with caution, understandably. They welcomed Gordon, 26, back with open arms before the 2016 season when he was conditionally reinstated with a four-game suspension, and he relapsed before playing his first game. He checked himself into rehab for the third time at that point, and said he needed some time away to get his life together.
Some close to him said the stress and pressure of returning was too much, and he turned back to alcohol and other substances.
This time around, the Browns will spend even more time talking to him and determining where he is in his recovery from a decade of substance use.
But fresh off a 90-day stint in a rehab facility in Gainesville, Fla., that ended in September — his fourth known time in rehab — Gordon has said he’s determined to make it stick this time. He must have made a compelling argument to Goodell.
Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com totes up the numbers:
Browns receiver Josh Gordon will be eligible to play again in Week 13 after the longest of his multiple suspensions. By then, those suspensions will have totaled 56 games.
Gordon was suspended for the first two games of the 2013 season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy and suspended the first 10 games of the 2014 season for another violation. He was also suspended for the last game of 2014, although that suspension was by the Browns, not the NFL, for violating team rules.
Gordon was then suspended at the start of the 2015 season and hasn’t played since. He missed all 16 games in 2015, all 16 games in 2016 and will have missed 11 games in 2017 when he’s finally eligible to play again. Add up all those suspensions, and they come in at 56 games.
Players who have committed far more serious infractions than Gordon have often received much, much shorter suspensions than Gordon did. The NFL’s standard suspension for domestic violence, for instance, is six games, and in practice players suspended for domestic violence usually get less than six games. Gordon, however, has not complained, and indicated in a recent interview that he needed the time away from the NFL to work on his rehab. He’s finally getting the chance to show he can stay clean and get back on the field.
The DB sees a note that the 19 TD passes thrown by QB DESHAUN WATSON are the most in any QBs first 7 games since 1970 which makes it sound like someone did it in 1969.
But a ProFootballReference.com sort goes all the way back to 1950 and Watson has that record also:
Deshaun Watson 2017 19
Mark Rypien 1988 16
Dan Marino* 1983 15
By the way, Watson can throw zero TD passes in the next two games and he would still have the first 9-game record. Rypien had 18 after 9 games, Marino and Marcus Mariota had 16.
IN EVERY BILLS game, Tyrod Taylor performs a feat of athleticism that makes you question your prior understanding of how human limbs are supposed to move — how legs and arms and hands normally work in tandem, restricting one’s ability to, say, hopscotch and type at the same time. In early October, when Buffalo went down to Atlanta, it happened in the second quarter amid a scoring drive. Taylor took a snap and faked a handoff, then found himself face-to-face with a pair of irate-looking Falcons linemen. He danced to his right. As he cocked his arm, eyes downfield and feet still whirring, his left leg rose in the manner of a prima ballerina taking flight, and he flicked a 44-yard bomb to tight end Charles Clay. All of his body parts seemed disjointed but somehow perfectly synchronized at the same time.
It didn’t really make sense.
The Bills, who were nine-point underdogs that afternoon, went on to defeat Atlanta. For Taylor, the win offered a temporary reprieve from the critics who have hounded him ever since he became a starter two years ago, but his peace was short-lived. A week later, after he struggled against Cincinnati, the calls for his benching returned, and Bills coach Sean McDermott was asked (for the umpteenth time) whether he believed in his quarterback. “Tyrod’s working hard to continue to improve,” he said. “I’ve got all the confidence in the world in Tyrod Taylor.”
Many in Buffalo don’t. On Monday during the following bye week, the bar at Duff’s Famous Wings — the best or second-best wings place in the city, depending on whom you ask — is brimming with Bills fans. Baseball is on, but the conversation turns, as it so often does around here, to football. A middle-aged woman in a Bills sweatshirt starts to explain why she’s optimistic about the team (then 3-2), with its unexpectedly strong defense, but she’s interrupted by her friend. “Tyrod blows,” he says. “He can’t throw the ball far enough.” He adds that Taylor is no better than draft bust EJ Manuel. “They’re the same quarterback.”
The woman sighs. She’s partial to rookie backup Nathan Peterman, a pocket passer selected in the fifth round, and she wants Taylor to sit. “He hasn’t done anything for us for the last couple of years,” she says.
Some quarterback-starved towns would kill for a player with Taylor’s abilities, but Buffalo is no ordinary town. It’s a city that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 1999 and has watched division rival Tom Brady calmly dissect the team’s defenses from the pocket for years, cycling through more than a dozen starters in that time. Taylor has now played two and a half seasons with the Bills, winning 19 games and losing 16 heading into their Week 9 game against the Jets.
His record, as balanced as a book opened to its midpoint, inspires passionate disagreement among fans, many of whom refuse to believe that Taylor actually might be the rarest of commodities: a franchise quarterback.
But the 28-year-old dual threat, known as T-Mobile, isn’t just divisive in Buffalo. He’s also polarizing around the NFL, where he’s become a Rorschach test for how we think about quarterbacks in 2017. Some coaches and experts are quick to rattle off his deficiencies: too short at 6-foot-1, too quick to leave the pocket, too limited as a passer. Other analysts see him as an underrated star, arguing that traditional “volume” stats like yardage and touchdowns (to say nothing of wins, the data point most loathed by the numerate set) fail to account for his unique skills. If Taylor thrives, he could change perceptions of what success at his position looks like — a heavy load for a quarterback accustomed to fighting just to be seen.
LIKE MANY FOOTBALL legends, former Bills quarterback Jim Kelly is often called upon to appraise his old team. In January, he took a shot at Taylor. “We do not have [a franchise quarterback] as of right now,” he said on ESPN, adding, “He has to be more consistent on his throws.” Taylor’s detractors have echoed this, noting that he rarely throws for more than 250 yards a game and that when the Bills fall behind by four points or more, his record is 3-16. (Most QBs have losing records in this scenario; Aaron Rodgers is 6-13 since 2015.)
Statistics are like fragmented quotes; their meaning is pliable, depending on how they’re deployed. For example, through his first six games this season, Taylor completed just 34 passes to wide receivers. Is it because of his own failings, or is it because his pass catchers are so pedestrian? Is he reliant on his übertalented running back, LeSean McCoy — or has McCoy thrived in Buffalo because defenses have to account for a mobile quarterback? And what about Taylor’s lack of passing yardage? “The NFL has gotten very pass-happy, but we’re balanced in our attack … so he’s not gonna throw 300 yards a game,” says Taylor’s center, Eric Wood. “But he’s truly efficient. Over the last two years, we’ve led the league in rushing, and a big part of that is Tyrod.”
Consider as well the gap between Taylor’s passer rating and his QBR. Last year he ranked 18th in the former stat and ninth in QBR. There are a number of variations between the two metrics — QBR accounts for game situations and how receivers perform after the catch, among other things — but the biggest differentiator is that it also accounts for rushing, at which Taylor excels: He’s run for over 1,000 yards over the past two seasons, topping all quarterbacks. Passer rating ignores running altogether, which means it values a QB who checks down short of the sticks over one who scrambles for a first down.
Pro Football Focus, the analytics company that grades players by watching every down, ranked Taylor as the 13th-best quarterback in 2015, 12th last year and sixth through Week 8 this season. While some observers of Taylor’s game might dispute that assessment, Sam Monson, one of PFF’s analysts, argues that it reflects Taylor’s worth. The quarterback does miss some throws, he says, but he compensates for his limited short game with a beautiful deep ball. “Almost every week, you’ll pull one throw from his game tape that’s obscene, that almost no quarterback can make,” Monson says. The combination of those explosive plays and Taylor’s low turnover rate — since becoming a starter, he has thrown an interception on 1.4 percent of his passes, fourth best in the NFL-is rare, he adds, which is why the lack of appreciation for Taylor in Buffalo befuddles him.
“Dumping Tyrod Taylor because you think you can do better is like hitting a 17 in blackjack,” Monson says. “You can do better than your hand, but you probably won’t.”
FOR AS LONG as Taylor can remember, he wanted to play quarterback. His father, Rodney, put a football in his hands when he was a toddler; by the time he was 6, he could throw perfect spirals, his little fingers guiding the arc of the ball the way a musical prodigy draws melodies out of an instrument. He wasn’t particularly fast — “I ran like I had lead in my shoes,” he says — but throwing came naturally, and he gravitated toward the passing role. His idols were Steve Young and Warren Moon.
“Quarterbacks,” he says.
Taylor grew up in Hampton, Virginia, the only child of Trina and Rodney. His father, who towed cars, was born with one arm shorter than the other, which made it difficult for him to grip a ball. He played running back in high school anyway, then coached peewee football, spending hours doing drills with his son in their backyard. “He was gonna make [Tyrod] a great quarterback from when he was 3,” says Curt Newsome, a former assistant coach at Virginia Tech. “He’s probably caught more footballs than any father in America.”
Taylor was single-minded as a kid. Whenever he finished his homework, he’d go into the garage — the dungeon, his family called it — to study VHS tapes of old NFL games, watching the film until he fell asleep. “A lot of the kids on my street said I was too busy to come out and play,” he says. He followed his father everywhere, tagging along to watch the local high school football team, hurling his body at tackling dummies that dwarfed his tiny frame. In elementary school, he scribbled his goals on a sheet of paper for a class project. The fading document, now a piece of Taylor family lore, reads: “1. Go to college and get a degree. 2. Play college football. 3. Play in the NFL.”
By the time Taylor was named the starting quarterback at Hampton High, it was obvious that he was destined to join the ranks of local legends like Michael Vick and Allen Iverson. But unlike his heroes, he wasn’t cocky or outspoken. Even as his star rose, he remained an introvert, the sort of kid who waited until the bell rang to ask his teacher a question because he didn’t want to raise his hand in class. As an adult, he’s grown more confident but is still reserved to the point that he comes across as shy. While being interviewed, he moves my tape recorder to his lap to make sure it picks up his soft voice.
“I’m still learning how to be more vocal,” Taylor says. “But I’ve always led by example.”
Unlike many Type A quarterbacks, Taylor exudes a gentle calm; in street clothes, one might mistake him for someone who works with children for a living. When asked to recall a time when he grew as a leader, he doesn’t point to a game-winning drive but instead tells the story of how, when he was in high school, one of his receivers fumbled a pass near the end zone, ending the team’s playoff run. At first he was frustrated, but when his older teammates lashed out at the young player, he rose to his defense. It’s one of his proudest memories. “To help him in that situation — it helped me,” he explains.
– – –
While nearly 70 percent of players in the NFL are black, they currently make up 25 percent of the league’s 32 starting quarterbacks, a slight uptick from recent years. There are a number of reasons for this disparity, ranging from socioeconomic forces to stereotypes about who should play the role. Many gifted young black quarterbacks are encouraged to switch positions-some in high school, and others-as may be the case with Louisville’s Lamar Jackson-as a prerequisite for playing in the NFL. They’re also compared with one another when they have little in common (take, for example, the notion that EJ Manuel, hardly a prolific rusher, is “the same” as Taylor) and are often described as leaning on their athletic gifts or being unable to read defenses. This spring new research from the University of Colorado found that people were more likely to believe a white quarterback was smarter than a black quarterback, even when cues were offered that both were exceptionally intelligent. Taylor recently told The Buffalo News that he believes he’s criticized in a different manner because of his race. “It’s always going to be twice as bad just because of who I am — an African-American quarterback.”
“A lot of us aren’t viewed as passers — we’re viewed as athletes,” says Vick, who mentored Taylor, his fellow Virginia Tech alum. “I think it’s unfair and unfortunate.”
Read the rest.
Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald on the message delivered by Coach Adam Gase when he sent RB JAY AJAYI packing to Philadelphia.
The message, delivered by coach Adam Gase to his players this week, couldn’t have been more clear:
“He said, ‘This is where we’re at, this is where we’re going to go; if you’re not on board, you’re going to be the hell out of there,’ ” center Mike Pouncey said.
One prominent player is already gone, running back Jay Ajayi dispatched to Philadelphia for a fourth-round pick because of substandard performance (running and blocking) and what was portrayed as a questionable attitude and occasional penchant for complaining.
That left the locker room stunned and left Miami without an established lead running back.
“Didn’t see it coming,” DeVante Parker said Wednesday.
“Shocked,” Kenyan Drake said.
Although multiple sources said Gase was displeased with Ajayi — it was the Dolphins who initiated trade calls to dump him — Gase did not specifically criticize him on Wednesday, saying only that it “was just time for us to move on. We’ve got some younger players there that we feel like we were going to move forward with.”
Gase said the Dolphins made no attempt to acquire a veteran running back before the trade deadline: “We didn’t inquire about anyone else. For right now, I like the group I’ve got.”
Gase declined to say which of those young backs — Drake, Damien Williams or to a lesser extent Senorise Perry — would start on Sunday against Oakland or what their roles would be.
But Gase expressed faith in all three, even though Williams has a 2.7 rushing average this season (12 for 32) and Drake 2.5 (10 for 25). Williams has played just 83 offensive snaps this season, Drake 46.
“Damien has impressed me from the get-go,” Gase said. “I was told when I got here that when the lights come on Sunday, he’s one of those guys you want with you. He has done nothing but make plays for us.
“Kenyan, we really feel fits the mold we’re looking for in that backfield. With those two guys, I like the fact that they’re able to catch the ball, run good routes, run the ball both inside and outside. They’re physical. We like their skill sets.”
Williams, who caught 23 passes for 249 yards last season but just eight for 50 this season, has just a 3.3 rushing average on 99 career carries.
Drake flashed as a rookie last season, averaging 5.4 yards on 33 carries. He insisted Wednesday that “I’m not going to look at it as any big opportunity.” He said Gase told him nothing about his role beyond to “play my best football.”
Pouncey said “it’s our job up front, the five [linemen] and our tight ends, to make the run game go. Kenyan is really, really fast. Damien is not going to go down easily. He knows what he’s doing on every play. I think they’re going to do a really good job.”
Asked about the Ajayi trade in the context of the business side of football, Pouncey said: “It sucks. It could be any one of us. Jay was really good to us.”
Gase didn’t directly answer when asked whether the Ajayi trade was designed to send a message. “I don’t know,” he said. “That’s something you would have to ask those guys.”
What disappointed Gase most about Ajayi’s 2 1/2 seasons with the team?
“We’ve had ups and downs, but that [happens with] a lot of players,” Gase said. “It’s just [about] getting on the same page and sharing the same philosophy of how we want to do things. I think he tried to do what we were asking him to do a majority of the time. He had a lot of really positive games. It was just time for probably us to go separate ways.”
Asked if the Dolphins are better off now than they were with Ajayi, Gase said: “I like where we’re at right now.”
The 2018 fourth-round pick that Miami will acquire for Ajayi likely will be a low pick, in the high 130s or low 140s. The Eagles own Minnesota’s, New England’s and their own fourth-rounder, and Miami will get the middle of those three picks. That’s probably going to be a low pick considering all three teams have three of the five best records in the league.
• Ajayi told Eagles reporters: “Those are the criticisms that are out there. I can only speak on how I view myself. I view myself as a ‘team guy’.
THIS AND THAT
Are people really not ordering Papa John’s pizza because they see it as an NFL advertiser and they are furious at the League and its players over the National Anthem controversy? That’s the contention of Papa John himself. The AP:
Sales growth at Papa John’s is slowing, and the pizza chain is blaming it on the outcry surrounding NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.
The company, which is a sponsor and advertiser of the NFL, said customers have a negative view of the chain’s association with the NFL. The company also cut its earnings growth expectations for the year and Papa John’s stock fell about 10 percent Wednesday.
“NFL leadership has hurt Papa John’s shareholders,” said the chain’s CEO John Schnatter, in a call with analysts Wednesday. “This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago.”
The kneeling movement was started last year by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who kneeled to protest what he said was police mistreatment of black males. More players began kneeling after President Donald Trump said at an Alabama rally last month that team owners should get rid of players who protest during the anthem.
Schnatter, echoing what Trump has said on Twitter, said the controversy is hurting NFL ratings. He said Papa John’s has hired a new creative agency that will help it create more digital ads.
“The controversy is polarizing the customer, polarizing the country,” he said.
A representative for the NFL did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Commissioner Roger Goodell and several owners said at the league’s fall meetings last month that they did not discuss altering the anthem policy language from “should stand” to “must stand.”
Other companies don’t see the NFL as a problem. Executives at chicken wing chain Buffalo Wild Wings Inc. said last week that the company didn’t expect declining NFL viewership to hurt a key sales figure. And Kohl’s, the department store operator, said it is working with the NFL on a holiday ad campaign.
“What we see is a lot of our shoppers and prospective shoppers are watching NFL so that is what is behind the decision,” said Greg Revelle, the chief marketing officer at Kohl’s. “We are very confident.”
As for Papa John’s, it reported late Tuesday that third-quarter sales rose 1 percent at established locations in North America, which it said was below what the company had expected. In the same period a year ago, sales rose 5.5 percent at established locations.
Shares of Papa John’s International Inc., based in Louisville, Kentucky, fell $6.60 to $61.45 on Wednesday.
Darren Rovell of ESPN.com collects a bunch of non-committal statements from the NFL’s other advertising partners:
In revising sales estimates for the next quarter, Papa John’s president and chief operating officer Steve Ritchie said on the call that the NFL deal was the primary suspect behind the decline and that “we expect it to persist unless a solution is put in place.”
Ritchie said that research has found that Papa John’s has been the most recognized sponsor associated with the NFL for two years running, which he said means the company’s performance can track with that of the league.
Papa John’s has a deal with not only the NFL, but also with 23 individual teams.
Company executives declined to disclose exactly how much money in projected sales Papa John’s lost from its association with the NFL and declining ratings, which mean fewer people are ordering their product for game days, they said.
Papa John’s stock was down 8.5 percent on Wednesday.
ESPN reached out to 18 NFL official sponsors in the last few days and asked the companies about its current relationship with the league and if any marketing programs had been changed due to the turmoil. Only five sponsors responded with a comment.
Verizon spokesperson Jim Gerace wrote via email that “our discussions with any partner are between us and while we haven’t done anything different, we don’t discuss future plans.”
“We are not going to critique their performance in public just as I wouldn’t expect them to critique ours,” Gerace added.
A Hyundai spokesperson said in a statement, “Hyundai participated in constant dialogue with the league to discuss all aspects of our partnership, including national anthem protests. We’ve been pleased with the frequency and openness of those conversations.”
A spokesperson for Dannon, whose Oikos brand has an official NFL deal, said: “We continue to monitor the situation carefully and have not made changes to our advertising or related plans.”
Nike and Anheuser-Busch referred to previously issued statements.
League sponsors that either didn’t return a message after 24 hours or declined comment included: PepsiCo, Mars, Visa, Campbell’s Soup, Procter & Gamble, Castrol, Bose, McDonald’s, Nationwide, Microsoft, USAA, Marriott and Bridgestone.
Did Jerry Jones whisper in the ear of Papa John? Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com on three-dimensional chess.
On Wednesday, the CEO of Papa John’s blamed a decline in earnings on a decline in NFL ratings, which he in turn blamed on the lingering anthem controversy. In response, some blame Cowboys CEO Jerry Jones for putting Papa John up to it.
Jones has become a significant Papa John’s franchise owner, with the total number of stores owned by Jones in excess of 100 as of 2014.
The relationship started in 2004, when Papa John’s became the official pizza of the Cowboys, and in turn Jones acquired 49-percent interest in 71 Papa John’s stores. Eight years later, Jones appeared in a Papa John’s commercial, where he rapped through the whole thing.
More recently, Jones has been doing a different kind of rapping as he tries to derail the Commissioner’s contract extension, which the Compensation Committee already has been authorized, by a 32-0 vote back in May, to execute. The suspicion in some league circles is that Jones, who has reason to be even more upset with Commissioner Roger Goodell now that running back Ezekiel Elliott‘s suspension is back on, instigated Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter to use Wednesday’s quarterly earnings conference call to dump on the NFL, and to call out NFL leadership for failing to solve the anthem issue before it became a full-blown problem.
For that reason, look for the league office to take Schnatter’s complaints with a grain of salt. (I could have made a pizza ingredient pun there but that would have been too cheesy.) However, the league office should take seriously the fact that Jones continues to look for new and creative ways to push his agenda, which could be to push out Goodell — either by mustering 23 other votes to block his extension or by driving such a hard bargain as to the remaining terms that Goodell decides he doesn’t want it.
POSTSEASON AWARDS CANDIDATES
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Judy Battista: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots. Key injuries might make the season a slog, but Brady is playing at an age-defying level to cover up those absences.
Jeffri Chadiha: Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs. Carson Wentz is on his heels, but Smith has two things going for him: 1) His overall numbers are better; and 2) the Chiefs beat the Eagles.
Gil Brandt: Smith. Tom Brady and Carson Wentz pose persuasive arguments, but Smith ranks first in passer rating (115.4) and yards per attempt (8.4) — with the latter figure being, according to Bill Parcells, the biggest indicator of quarterback success.
Maurice Jones-Drew: Brady. Others are having big — even career — years, but no one is as consistent or valuable.
Steve Wyche: Brady. With Aaron Rodgers out, Brady will end up taking home the honors. Carson Wentz, Alex Smith, Russell Wilson and Drew Brees will be in the conversation.
Ike Taylor: Brady. No 40-year-old quarterback has done, well, anything Brady is doing.
Charley Casserly: Brady. I know it’s a boring pick. He is having another outstanding year despite the loss of his favorite target, Julian Edelman. The defense started off poor. He has brought the Pats back to win games and improved over the course of the first half of the season.
Heath Evans: Brady. Regardless of circumstance, Brady continues to get better. At this point, I don’t think he’ll ever retire.
Adam Schein: Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles. He’s a star and defines value for the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
Reggie Wayne: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints. Brees just recorded his 6,000th career completion. With him, the Saints always have a shot.
Alex Gelhar: Smith. His play (deep passing, in particular) has unlocked the Kansas City offense and is what’s keeping the Chiefs at the top of the AFC.
Adam Rank: Smith. I was set to go with Tom Brady here. But Smith did steal the win in Week 1. And while I would certainly lean toward Brady in a playoff rematch, we’re talking about a regular-season award — and nobody has played better than Smith. Even up against a great defense this past Monday night, Smith found a way to win. And you might want to say, “Well, that’s because the Broncos don’t have a QB.” And I’d be all, “Yeah, that’s my point.”
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Judy Battista: Calais Campbell, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars. Arguably the best free-agent signing of the year, he is the linchpin of the Jaguars’ rise.
Jeffri Chadiha: Campbell. He has 10 sacks through seven games and Jacksonville’s defense is scarier than ever. Case closed.
Gil Brandt: Campbell. Campbell is tied for second in the NFL with 10 sacks. He also has 27 pressures and 32 tackles while serving as a real leader and catalyst for the Jaguars, who are tied with the Titans for the AFC South lead.
Maurice Jones-Drew: Campbell. Campbell lit a spark in the Jags’ defense. This unit is playing better, and Campbell, although in his first year in Jacksonville, is the leader.
Steve Wyche: Joey Bosa, DE, Los Angeles Chargers. I’m sticking with my preseason pick of Joey Bosa. He is so dominant. The Chargers’ lack of exposure could hurt, but he will get recognized.
Ike Taylor: Ryan Shazier, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers He has improved a lot in his fourth season and is a huge reason the Steelers’ defense ranks in the top three.
Charley Casserly: Campbell. He has taken this Jaguars defense — and team — to another level. Can play DE and DT and is a factor against the run and pass.
Heath Evans: Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams. His production is down, but there’s still time for him to take over.
Adam Schein: Campbell. He has the numbers and the intangibles to capture this award as he leads the Jaguars.
Reggie Wayne: Campbell. Joining the Jags was a wise move for Campbell. He’s right in the mix to lead the league in sacks and won’t be stopped now.
Alex Gelhar: Donald. The stats might not be backing this up (yet), but no player possesses more game-wrecking ability than Donald.
Adam Rank: Campbell. The Jaguars’ defense looks dominant. But Jacksonville has been building to this for years. Campbell pushed the Jags over the top. He’s like the Cowboys’ addition of Charles Haley back in the 1990s.
OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Judy Battista: Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans. The Texans finally found their franchise quarterback — and one of the most exciting players in the NFL.
Jeffri Chadiha: Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City Chiefs. Even with Deshaun Watson making a strong case, Hunt has been sensational since Day 1.
Gil Brandt: Watson. The first-round pick has elevated the Texans’ offense considerably, pushing Houston to an NFL-best 30.2 points per game after the Texans averaged just 17.4 points per game (T-28th) in 2016. He also has posted three-plus touchdown passes in four consecutive games, a record for a rookie.
Maurice Jones-Drew: Hunt. There are a lot of rookies doing big things, but Hunt is literally running away with this one.
Steve Wyche: Hunt. I’m surprised by Bears RB Tarik Cohen. He’s been great, just not enough touches. That said, Hunt gets this honor.
Ike Taylor: Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars’ offense hasn’t been able to rely on its quarterback in recent years. Fournette has carried the load all season.
Charley Casserly: Watson. He leads the Texans to the division championship with his arm, not his legs!
Heath Evans: Watson. I picked Dalvin Cook in the preseason, but his season-ending injury takes him out of the running. Plus, this award usually goes to a quarterback.
Adam Schein: Watson. It’s over. It’s magical.
Reggie Wayne: Hunt. He took the league by storm and is doing things no rookie has done.
Alex Gelhar: Watson. Watson breaks a record seemingly every week and is the reason Houston is in playoff contention despite losing two of their top three defensive players.
Adam Rank: Watson. The Texans have been one of the best defensive teams in the league for some time, always looking for a QB. Now they lose the defense just as they get a young signal caller. But the fun thing is, they might be better off. Not might. Are.